Review: Runbow (PS4)

Review: Runbow (PS4)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One
  • Nintendo Switch
  • Wii U
  • PC

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
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Title: Runbow
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (1.3 GB)
Release Date: July 3, 2018
Publisher: 13AM Games / Headup
Developer: 13AM Games
Original MSRP: $14.99 (US), £11.99 (UK)
ESRB Rating: E
PEGI: 3
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

While the soft sales of the Wii U will undoubtedly be recorded as a failure, the console was home to a multitude of incredible exclusive games. Many of the first party Nintendo titles locked away on the platform, never to be played by millions of gamers unwilling to give the blundering hardware a chance, are finding deserved success on the Nintendo Switch in their remastered forms.

But what of the third party exclusives? What became of the projects from developers expecting that the Wii U would reach the astronomical success of its predecessor, the Wii? How would these passionate creators employ Nintendo’s innovative hardware for pure, unabated fun? Runbow was one such project. While the PS4 version is missing an integral part of the original vision that I’ll discuss later, the frenzied chaos of Runbow’s fundamental mechanics is present in spades.

Gameplay:
An impressive feature of Runbow is its virtually nonexistent time to fun, meaning that the immediacy with which the game becomes enjoyable is unparalleled. After the mode and character selection, players are thrust into the zany environment where gamer’s intuition guides your initial interaction.

You begin running from left to right as countless platformers have taught us. The obstacles in your way can be overcome with a press of the jump button, and any inputs more complex than that are quickly modeled by tips on loading screens. The game’s brilliance is then introduced through its use of color.

Review: Runbow (PS4)

Imagine rushing along to the end of a level, jumping on platforms of all hues in a desperate attempt to reach the flag. You notice the background changing colors but you’re not quite yet sure why. You’re safe on the blue platform while the background is orange. You’re safe on the yellow platform while the background is red. All is right with the world.

Suddenly, the video game rules you’ve learned throughout your life thus far are thrust out the window when the structure supporting you disappears into the background as their colors match.

The experience is jarring the first time it happens but learning to navigate the color based death traps quickly becomes the basis for a most enjoyable experience. While the central gameplay element of monitoring your environment’s colors and platforming may seem like a thin gimmick at first, clever level design and interesting game modes perpetuate the hilarity brought forth by the mechanic.

When playing alone, Runbow can still offer over 140 levels, each with three separate goal times to incentivize retries and create replay value. In Bowhemoth mode, a grueling test of platforming endurance, your progress isn’t saved after quitting thereby making the act of putting the controller down that much harder.

On one particular playthrough, several alternating strips of red and white backgrounds were careening across the screen at a breakneck pace. I was tasked with selecting a strip and remaining within it as I navigated the pitfalls, oftentimes leaping towards platforms that would not become tangible until the background color aligned a split second before my character landed.

Review: Runbow (PS4)

I was playing in the white level, trying to envision what lies ahead as the upcoming obstacles were distorted by the red level, which was running its course simultaneously as I desperately attempted escaping the swift judgement of the screen’s edge. Just as I became comfortable with the rhythmic platforming, I’d be forced to switch to a red strip mid jump and retrain my brain to focus expressly on the opposite color. It was truly exhilarating gameplay.

Visuals:
Combining its gameplay with the visual aesthetic of Runbow brings to light the play on words used to create the clever, succinct title. The characters are running against a backdrop of a beautifully bright, rainbow inspired palette.

While the backgrounds of most 2D platformers serve only the purpose of thematic fit, for Runbow it’s deeply integrated into the central mechanic. There is no wasted screen space and the player’s attention is constantly divided between focusing on the character and planning for the impending doom of the color change.

Runbow embraces its indie darling identity by including several playable guest characters from other hit platformers. The chaos is even more endearing when carried out by Juan from Guacamelee, the titular knight from Shovel Knight, or Shantae from the Half-Genie Hero series to name a few. These characters and more are unlocked as you earn them from in-game feats to provide your avatars with distinct looks that are discernable amidst the hectic gameplay.

Audio:
I was reminded of the wacky intro themes from old cartoons as I listened to the game’s soundtrack. The music is befitting of what you might expect from a colorful, animated, multiplayer platformer where players are punching, jumping, and falling over each other to reach the goal. The melodies do their job by blending into the background unnoticed and providing a suitable tempo for the chaos.

Review: Runbow (PS4)

Online/Multiplayer:
On PS4, Runbow supports up to four players locally and a whopping nine online. As I am not much of an online gamer, I’m always searching for titles that facilitate fun local multiplayer. I’m happy to report that Runbow does exactly that. The frenetic nature of the gameplay coupled with the innovative modes can provide sustained excitement.

In King of the Hill mode, players are fighting to occupy a specific spot on the level map for a set number of seconds. Standing in the spot will begin your own personal countdown and you win by reaching zero. It’s always fun to watch every other player attack the king with dire, frenzied inputs, all vying to knock him/her off the spot to claim it for themselves.

Step into the Arena mode pits players against each other in a mad dash for the level goal. The perilous pitfalls run amok and begin to feel like their own omnipotent entity, constantly taunting the human players. Coupled with highly customizable match rules and wisecracking transition screens, all set upon the foundation of the game’s color play, the different modes are unique and engaging.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to participate in any online play seemingly due to a lack of players online even after the game’s release. This is a shame because the multiplayer modes are where Runbow shines and I imagine an additional five players would only amplify the experience.

Review: Runbow (PS4)

Conclusion:
Even though Runbow would later come to the 3DS and PC, its definitive Wii U release was missed by those of us that skipped the Wii successor entirely. I’m always excited when a gem from the console becomes playable on a more accessible platform. The majority of these remade games are Nintendo exclusive and thereby made available only on Switch. The advantage of a game like Runbow is that the newest version is free to flourish on any and all platforms it chooses.

Earlier in this review, I alluded to a missing mode that made sense only on the Wii U’s setup. The player with the gamepad was able to express his/her omnipotence by controlling the color changes, virtually deciding the fate of the other players. While omitting this feature and decreasing the possible number of local players is a hindrance, Runbow certainly deserves its second (third) chance.

While the death of single player may be a hot topic amongst the industry’s click baiting and fear mongering, I do feel as though local multiplayer takes a backseat to online play. I understand that rendering a graphically intensive game twice in split screen modes is taxing on hardware so I always appreciate its inclusion. Furthermore, an indie like Runbow that can so quickly create fun amongst players on the same couch is a rare find and one that I’m glad to have discovered.

Score:
8.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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Written by Emrah Rakiposki

Emrah Rakiposki

– Food
– Video games
– Rap music
It has been my life’s work to properly order the list of this world’s greatest pleasures. There is no right answer.

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